Running With the Pack 

Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez revisit their roots.

After logging 35 years as members of Los Lobos and assorted side groups, Louie Pérez and David Hidalgo are going back to their roots. Their forthcoming Unreleased Songs and Rare Recordings has it origins in a demo tape originally recorded between the release of Los Lobos' 1988 project La Pistola y El Corazón, an album of Mexican folklore music, and the band's 1990 full-length The Neighborhood. "David and I had gone into this small studio in Hollywood with engineer Larry Hirsch to put down some song ideas and recorded these eight songs in one sitting," Pérez recalled. "We had an idea to play a show with just the two of us and decided to try and find those tapes. We tracked them down and listened to them after so many years and we thought it was kind of cool. It was like looking at your high school yearbook."

According to Pérez, he and Hidalgo had been talking about "how cool it would be to strip our approach way down and just let the songs live on their own." So this resurrection of previously unreleased material perfectly played into the duo's planned handful of upcoming appearances, the first of which kicks off this week at Yoshi's. Billed as an acoustic performance and an open forum, the show will feature classic songs from their catalogue, as well as some of their newfound material. Sung by Hidalgo, two of the songs will reverberate with a degree of familiarity for fans of Los Lobos. "Til the Hands Fall Off the Clock" is a crisp two-step driven by a way-catchy squeezebox and plenty of twangy guitar that falls somewhere between "One Time, One Night" and "Corrido #1," while "If" is more stripped-down with a repetitious nylon-string chord progression that could very well have inspired 1992's "Peace." After the breakthrough success of La Bamba, the soundtrack Los Lobos recorded for the 1987 biopic of Ritchie Valens that was also the source of the group's hit title cut, the quintet came close to being pigeonholed by its own good fortune. Hence the need not only to record the all-Spanish La Pistola, but for Hidalgo and Pérez to revisit their origins as two high school kids getting together after class to knock around on guitars. "La Pistola was like a musical monkey-wrench to throw into the machine," said Pérez. "At that point, we were really reassessing things after 'La Bamba.' I don't know if an identity crisis or any of those things apply, but after a huge hit we felt we needed to get back on track. I think as part of that, David and I decided to work on some songs."

Since then, Hidalgo and Pérez, along with bandmates Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano, and Steve Berlin, have not only continued releasing critically acclaimed albums like 1992's Kiko and 2006's The Town and the City, but have dabbled with various side projects. Those included the Latin American supergroup Los Super Seven, whose revolving door of members included the likes of Joe Ely, the late Freddy Fender, and Raul Malo playing alongside Hidalgo and Rosas, and the more avant-garde-oriented roots music of Latin Playboys. While Los Lobos are experiencing the ripple effect of a music industry unsure of itself in an age of file-sharing and iTunes, Pérez says the band is handling it better than the major labels. "We accept these changes and stay with what's going on. Not that we're hipsters, but we realize that this is how it's got to be done now," the 54-year old musician said.

Not surprisingly, Los Lobos are in the midst of severing ties with Hollywood Records, their label since 1999, and are getting ready to return to the studio and work on new material for their own, yet- unnamed imprint. In the meantime, Pérez and Hidalgo are figuring out the logistics of their upcoming intimate shows together. "This has all the earmarks of some precious, academic sort of survey. But we'll have none of that," Pérez says with a laugh. "This is going to be us sitting there with a bunch of people saying what's up and showing how this or that song went. We'll probably end up talking to each other more than the audience. We don't know what's going to happen and it's kind of cool that way. It reminds me of when I was hanging out at his house."


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